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This is the dark secret of the book industry, and one of the new truths of the music business.
Every year, total book sales have been relatively flat, growing just a bit.
But, the price of books has been rising, so that means that unit sales, the number of books sold, is flatter still.
Missing from this analysis: the number of books published each year is going up, and fast. And with ebooks taking off, the number of books published is about to go up by a factor of 100.
Think about it: anyone with an essay, a collection of thoughts, a tumblr that’s been running for a while… you can turn those into a nationally distributed ebook in about fifteen minutes.
And when everyone is rushing to increase supply along the long tail, it doesn’t matter if a publisher decides to hold back and publish fewer titles–the public doesn’t know who publishes what and doesn’t really care.
The end result, I predict, is that sales per book published are going to decrease as much as 20% next year. Sure, there are plenty of hits left to happen, and the short head of the bestseller list is going to be a good place to be for a while to come. But the midlist (which means most books) is going to see sales per book go down. And keep going down.
Good for people who like to discover interesting ideas. Bad for people who publish them the traditional way.